Online name suppression laws to be tightened

Maximum fine for breaching supression orders to be increased

A notice-and-take-down provision for internet hosts and ISPs that facilitate breach of Court name-suppression orders is part of planned changes to the law governing suppression of name and other details of defendants, victims and witnesses. The planned changes were announced by Justice Minister Simon Power today.

Reform follows a Law Commission paper on suppression and include “introducing a new offence to capture New Zealand-based internet service providers or content hosts who do not remove locally hosted suppressed information which they know is in breach of a suppression order, and who fail to block access or remove it as soon as reasonably practicable.”

The suggested reforms will also increase the penalties for breach of name-suppression and evidence-suppression orders. The maximum fine for organisations that breach suppression goes up from $5,000 to $100,000.

For individuals breaching suppression orders the maximum term of imprisonment will be doubled, from three months to six months. “Judges will also be able to impose a fine of their discretion in lieu of imprisonment if the circumstances warrant it,” says Power. The current maximum fine is $1,000.

The question of disclosure of the suppressed names of defendants through the internet has become particularly controversial in the past two years. The Ministry of Justice, the Law Commission and InternetNZ jointly organised a seminar on the subject last December.

Blogger Cameron Slater was convicted last month of breach of suppression orders, for publishing the names of celebrity defendants on his blog obscurely in such forms as digital code and pictograms.

Power’s announcement emphasises that grounds for suppression will be more tightly defined and it will be “harder to get” under the new regime. The legislation will make it clear there is “no presumption of extreme hardship [one of the defined grounds for suppression] solely on the grounds that an alleged offender is well known,” Power says.

“Being famous is not a good enough reason to be granted name suppression.”

Referring to the announcement, particularly the “famous offenders” remark, Slater says on his blog he has “lost the battle but won the war”.

The law changes will be included in a bill to be introduced to Parliament before the end of the year, Power says.

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